In the face of unified opposition to the Michigan House Republican’s “plan” for Detroit schools, there is a better way


Yesterday, Tony wrote about the racist impacts of Michigan House Republicans’ so-called plan to resolve the devastation caused by years of disinvestment in the Detroit Public Schools (DPS). I thought it would be worth a deeper look to reveal just how odious the plan is.

There are several elements that show that House Republicans have no intention of making DPS and the students in the system whole. First of all, there is insufficient funding for their “plan” to even work. Here’s what the Editorial Board at the Detroit Free Press had to say about it:

When is $500 million worth nothing?

When you throw it away on a plan designed to fail, to prove an ideological point that has nothing to do with helping children.

Fifteen hours Michigan Republicans spent, pulling an all-nighter on Wednesday, to work out a plan to “save” Detroit Public Schools. The outcome? A package of bills that provides the framework necessary to execute Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed reforms — absent the cash required to make the plan work. It’s a set-up, one that allows state legislators to swear that they really tried to help DPS, while all but ensuring that the district will continue to fail.

Where to lay the blame for this legislative failure? Votes on the package broke down largely on party lines. And that means our gaze is focused sharply on Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter, a leader under whose guidance of that chamber has produced little of value, and whose rhetoric grows more cloyingly sanctimonious by the day.

The House’s plan allots DPS just $467 million to pay down its deficit — that’s not nearly enough to leave the district on firm financial footing.

The House plan also cancels all union contracts and forces DPS teachers to reapply for their jobs. Not only that, it would allow uncertified teachers to teach in DPS schools and non-instructional staff jobs could be outsourced to private contractors. And, just to be sure that teachers are fully screwed, it would institute a merit pay system that ties pay to student standardized test scores for all new hires.

One wonders if uncertified teachers would be acceptable in the schools where the House Republicans children or grandchildren go. I’m guessing probably not. But for poor, mostly-African American kids in Detroit, the GOP says that’s fine.

As Tony said, it’s racist and dehumanizes the poor kids trapped in a situation they have no control over.

Finally, the House version of the bills, which are dramatically different from the better-but-not-great Senate bills, don’t include the creation of the Detroit Education Commission (DEC) which would restore local control over DPS. The DEC would oversee policy and would include oversight of Detroit’s many charter schools.

Given the DeVos family’s nearly single-minded goal of destroying our public school system in favor of their for-profit charter model, it’s no surprise that their bought-and-paid-for legislators in the House want nothing to do with the DEC or anything like it.

The American Federation of Teachers and Detroit Federation of Teachers released this statement regarding this utterly terrible package of legislation:

The partisan bills forced through in the dead of night by Speaker Kevin Cotter are some of the most despicable anti-student, anti-public school, anti-teacher provisions we’ve seen in America. Make no mistake: These bills discriminate against Detroit’s children—who are overwhelmingly economically disadvantaged children and children of color—and are designed explicitly to punish teachers who speak up on behalf of their students and themselves. Many of the so-called teacher-related provisions have failed and been rejected when used in other jurisdictions.

It is increasingly clear that the Michigan House has turned its back on the students of Detroit and would rather punish teachers than give kids a chance to succeed. We call on Gov. Snyder to declare that he will veto the House bill, should it reach his desk.

Under state-controlled emergency management, indifferent politicians abandoned Detroit’s students to learn in under-resourced schools with deplorable conditions. Through it all, our teachers and school employees have been the glue that has held the schools together. They have taught without textbooks, they have inspired in overcrowded classrooms, and they have provided hope in computer labs without the internet.

By eliminating teacher voice, House Republicans strip away our ability to advocate for children, who have been failed by our leaders in Lansing.

It’s past time for the House to get serious and stop the political games. We urge Gov. Snyder to veto this bill, and ask the House to take up the bipartisan Senate bill that, while not perfect, gives Detroit’s schools a fair chance and offers hope to our students, families, educators and staff.

AFT and DFT are calling on Gov. Snyder to veto the House version of the bills should they reach his desk. You can sign their petition in support of this veto HERE.

Make no mistake: there are better ways to do this.

Michigan State University Professor David Arsen has created a thoughtful video explainer about where we are with respect to solving the intractable problems in Detroit schools and offers his thoughts on the best path forward. In it, he details the abject failure of the policy of Emergency Management in Detroit both from a financial perspective – DPS is deeper in debt now than it was before thanks to Emergency Management – and in terms of academics. Here is Prof. Aren’s video brief:

Thankfully, Senate Republicans along with Gov. Snyder appear to be unified with Democrats in rejecting the DPS legislation put forth by House Republicans. Be sure you’re heard by speaking with your own legislators and let them know you stand with Detroit school children and their teachers and demand that they find a solution that will ensure Detroit kids get the same education opportunities as kids in any other Michigan school district. Email your legislators or call them (313-466-8238) and tell them to vote NO on House Bills 5383, 5384, and 5387 today.

If we fail Detroit kids, the failure will be on every one of us.